Overview USA Application

USA Application Guide

Application Guide

5. Overview USA Application

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An American college application consists of many different parts, most of which are done by yourself, and some performed by others. The process may seem overwhelming, but with a good overview and careful planning the work becomes all the more manageable. This section outlines the constructs of a USA application.


The following items are included in a US university application:

Category Description Optional You Someone else
The Common Application Personal details
Academic information
Extracurriculars and work
College essay
College supplements
Secondary School Report
Teacher Report
International Supplement
Arts supplement
Athletic supplement
Admissions tests SAT Reasoning
SAT Subject Tests


USA Application


The Common Application

The Common Application (often referred to as “CommonApp”) is the common application to almost all universities in the US. The universities used to have their own application forms. CommonApp was put in place to make the process smoother and easier for universities and applicants alike. Today, almost all applications are submitted via CommonApp.

The Common Application saves you a lot of work and gives you time to focus on your application instead of researching different application requirements for different universities.

Go to www.commonapp.org to sign up for the Common Application. Registration is free and once you’re logged in you can create a list of the different universities you wish to apply for, and begin filling out the application forms.

Once you’ve finished filling out your application, you can submit it online.



Application items performed by someone else

The table presented above suggests that there are three items in your application performed by other people: Secondary School Report, Teacher Report and International Supplement. Secondary School Reports and International Supplement should be filled out and submitted by your “secondary school counselor”, and the Teacher Report should be performed by one of your teachers. We will elaborate on each individual item of your application in the respective chapter of this guide.

The items of your application performed by someone else should be submitted via traditional mail.



Deadlines for US applications

This calendar is intended for the fall- and spring semesters leading up to the commencement of your studies. Note that dates for TOEFL are not given, due to their high frequency throughout the year (each or every second week). Exact dates for SAT are also not given, since these vary somewhat from year to year. SAT tests are, however, always given on Saturdays.


Date Deadlines for university application Other important dates
1 Deadline for Early Decision/Early Action at some universities
15 Deadline for Early Decision/Early Action at some universities
30 Deadline for application to constituent schools of University of California
1 Deadline for applications to most universities
Potential interviews
1 Notice of acceptance/rejection is sent out
1 Last day to accept/reject your offers



Cost of applying to the US

Below you’ll find a summary of all costs related to an American college application. Note that these numbers are rough estimates. The final cost of your application will depend on:

  •  How many universities you’re applying for and their individual application fees
  •  How many times you choose to take do SAT
  •  How many times you choose to take do TOEFL
Description Cost (USD) Comment
Application fee (per university) 0-100 Differs a lot
SAT Reasoning (per test) 71
SAT Subject Tests (base fee, per test) 46
SAT Subject Tests (per test, max three per session) 9 Normally three tests per session


In addition to these costs, you must account for the cost of submitting items of your application via traditional mail. The SAT and TOEFL administrators provide the service of submitting your official test results to more universities than what is included in the base agreement at an extra charge.






5.1 US Application, Step-by-step

If you’re submitting a US application, most likely you’ll have to go through The Common Application system. This is a central application system that allows applications to submit their applications online. In this section, we cover the step-by-step procedure of setting up an account and submitting your applications.



Common App login page


  1. Register to The Common Application

It’s free to register to The Common Application. Click the “Apply Now”-button in the top right corner, and then “Create An Account” above the email- and password fields. Follow the instructions on the page to create a personal login.



Common Application My Colleges page


The “My Colleges”-page


  1. Add universities

To begin your application you must add at least one university in your “My Colleges”-list. You can always go back and make changes to your list.

To add a college to your list, do so from your results list under the College Search tab. Check the box beside the college name, then click the Add button located at the bottom right of the page. You can also see specific college information such as phone numbers, deadlines, fees, and recommendation requirements by clicking the school name link from the results list


  1. Application overview and requirements

How will you keep track of each university’s specific requirements and deadlines? Resources on the website such as the “Requirements Grid” and “Requirements Tracker” worksheet will ensure that you’re ready to submit everything your schools require by the deadlines they require it.

Additionally, you’ll find a checklist of the required items of each of your chosen schools on the “My Colleges”-page, as shown in the image in step 2.


Common App Ansökningsformulär

The Common App application forms


  1. The different parts of your application

While every school has a different list of college-specific requirements, the general application information (for the Common App) will remain constant for all schools on your list. You’ll find these sections under the “Common App”-tab, as shown above.

You’ll be asked to list your high school grades and courses, along with your activities, entrance exam scores and exam dates, and parent or legal guardian information. Get a head start and save yourself time by collecting this information before you fill out the application. You’ll be glad you did.


We’ll go into more detail on some of the sections in the Common Application further along in this guide.





5.2 The Education System in the US

The education system in the US is somewhat unique, and many things will differ from what international students are used to. A good way of coping with these differences is to understand why they are there and what purpose they serve. Below, we provide an outline of a few key features of the education system in the US.


Undergraduate – Bachelor’s, Graduate – Master

There are many seemingly foreign concepts when you begin looking at American universities. Two of the most important ones are “undergraduate” and “graduate”. These tell us about the academic level of your studies.

Undergraduate is the basic level where you’ll begin your university studies after completing high school. An undergraduate programme in America is four-years long and your degree is referred to as a “Bachelor”.

“Graduate” studies are an optional continuation of your university studies after having received your Bachelor. Graduate programmes differ in length, but usually extend no longer than three years. A graduate degree is known as a “Master”.

You can do your graduate level degree at any university of your liking (assuming you are admitted) and do not need to stay at your former university. In fact, most people choose to do their undergrad- and graduate degrees at two different universities. Some students choose to continue with their masters programme right after their bachelor, and others prefer getting some professional experience before continuing their studies.


4-year undergraduate education

If you’re still in high school, your next step is an undergraduate degrees. The american education system demands 4-year undergraduate programmes.



In American universities, you study many courses side-by-side throughout the semester – usually 3 to 5 courses at a time. Each course spans one whole semester.



Examinations can take all kinds of different forms: tests, lab reports, essays, oral presentations, debates, home examinations etc. Examinations take place either on a running basis throughout the semester or during certain “exam periods”. Universities have two exam periods throughout the year: “Midterm exams” halfway through the semester, and “final exams” at the end of the semester.


Academic freedom (“liberal arts”)

US universities give you a lot of freedom to choose your own courses and design your own degree. Programmes in other parts of the world aren’t nearly as flexible. Before the start of each new semester, you get to look over the course catalogue and design your own schedule in the semester ahead.

The idea is to allow students the freedom to try as many different academic disciplines as possible, to help them figure out what they’re interested in before choosing their specialization.


… and demands

With a freedom comes responsibility. Students therefore face some requirements from the schools. These demands can be broken down into three different categories:

  • Distribution requirements – the US education system wants their students to try a broad spectrum of different academic disciplines. For this reason, “distribution requirements” have been introduced. They require students to take at least one or two courses within different fields (ex. Humanities, science, math, art, history and finance). So, even if you’re a physics student, your degree will include radically different courses.
  • Requirements for your major – Your “Major” is the academic field you choose to specialize in. Universities require students to take a certain number of courses within their field of specialization. The number is usually around one fourth of your classes.

You pick your “major” halfway through your undergraduate degree.

  • Other requirements – Some universities have further requirements such as “Core courses”. These are mandatory courses for all students. Some schools have “Language Requirements” where students must reach a certain level within foreign language courses.





5.3 Strategic high school decisions

The most important part of your application: your high school courses

American universities have a very broad approach to assessing the suitability of their applicants. A poor SAT performance will not necessarily mean elimination. This can be outweighed by strong extracurriculars and vice versa. There is, however, one aspect of your application that weighs heavier than any other part – “Your high school transcript” – your leaving grades from high school.

Why is this document so important? It’s not just a question of your GPA, but three different things:

  •  How many courses did you take? – Admissions look for students who study courses beyond the required minimum. This points to having ambition, academic aptitude and an appetite for learning.
  •  How advanced your courses are – Admissions look for students who have immersed themselves as much as possible. Have you taken any advanced courses? The specific subject is irrelevant, but the depth and scope of your studies matters, as this points towards a will to challenge yourself.
  •  Your grades – Apart from taking both many and advanced courses, the grades matter. High performance in advanced courses is a great testament of a candidate with strong potential, according to admissions.


Start early

In order to fulfill the three criterias above, you should plan out your high school studies early on:

  •  Start taking extra classes already in grade 10
  •  Research possibilities of accelerating your studies by speaking to your teachers
  •  Research possibilities of studying in a “fast track” programme, allowing you to reach more advanced levels in your classes (special math programmes for example).
  •  Partake in summer courses during your summer vacation. There are many great international summer programmes available via universities.
  •  If there is a specific course not offered at your school, explore possibilities of taking it at elsewhere.
  •  When you’ve read the most advanced course available in your favourite subject, advance to university-level courses (online or perhaps night courses at a nearby university).


Take your own initiatives

Your high school will assume that you’re following the standard high school programme. You must take the initiatives required for a successful college application if you wish to stand out. Pick your favorite points in the list above and make an action plan!

Tell your teachers and parents that you want to apply for a top university abroad, and you’ll probably find that they will share your enthusiasm.





5.4 Universities outside the framework of the Common Application

More and more universities have joined The Common Application since its foundation, and today you’ll find almost every university in America on the platform. There are, however, a few that still use their own admissions systems and procedures.

Below are some of the most popular universities that do not belong to The Common Application network:

  •  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  •  Constituent schools of University of California (ex. UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA)
  •  Georgetown University
  •  Pennsylvania State University


The universities that are not part of the Common App network use either their own online application system or a physical application form submitted via traditional mail.

Some universities let you choose whether you wish to apply via the Common Application or their own system. The system used does not affect your chances of being accepted.

The list above is not complete and slight changes are made every year. The full list of schools that do NOT use Common App is long, but shrinking somewhat every year. Make sure to look up the application procedure of the specific university of interest before applying. You’ll find information on The Common Application’s website as well as the university’s website.

Another way of checking if your university of interest uses the Common App is to look for it on the list of schools on the Common App conveniently located on – you guessed it – the Common App website.


Although most schools use the centralized Common App system, you should not use this as a rule of thumb. It is an easy mistake to make which could cost you your shot at being admitted to your dream university. We would therefore like to stress the importance of double checking the application specifications with your institutions of interest. 



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